WINSLOW, Maine —The Messalonskee High School boys hockey team is one win away from playing in the state-title game and securing a potential undefeated record after beating John Bapst 7-3 in an Eastern Maine Class B semifinal Saturday night at Sukee Arena.
The Eagles will play Presque Isle for the regional title at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Orono.
Sophomore sensation Jared Cunningham got the Eagles (19-0) on the board first by taking the puck on his stick and doing what he’s done all season, make plays.
Cunningham’s speed had Crusaders defenders unsure of how close to play him for fear of getting beat. That hesitation gave Cunningham all the room he needed to duck by one defender in the corner, giving him room to wrap around the back of the net and tuck the puck home for a 1-0 Eagles lead at 3:09.
“It’s kind of like getting the whole team going,” Jared Cunningham said. “It’s a get-the-game going type of goal and we just went from there.”
The Crusaders had a chance to tie the game with Messalonskee showing a lack of discipline, taking three consecutive penalties resulting in 40 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play.
The Eagles defense, anchored by goaltender Ben Weeks, not only shut down the John Bapst power play to preserve the 1-0 lead, but they didn’t even allow a shot on net on the 5-on-3 man-advantage and remainder of the ensuing 5-on-4.
The Cunninghams would make John Bapst pay by converting on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush.
Chase Cunningham took the puck wide through the offensive zone, delaying until a passing lane opened up, and then put the puck on his brother’s stick as Jared’s one-timer beat a diving Sam Lander for a 2-0 lead with 2:41 left in the first period.
Tyler Wheeler, a freshman whose two goals Tuesday night against Winslow propelled the Crusaders into the semifinal, lit the lamp for his third time in two games.
Matthew Spear found Wheeler sitting all alone on the left faceoff dot in prime shooting position. The puck was on Wheeler’s stick for a fraction of a second before he let go a wrist shot that beat Weeks clean over the glove for a power-play goal at 4:55 of the second period.
It was John Bapst’s fourth attempt with the man-advantage as it was finally able to make the Eagles pay for all their trips to the penalty box.
The Crusaders would finish 1-for-8 on the power play.
“I thought we played well all night long, seven goals doesn’t show how close it was,” said Messalonskee head coach Michael Latendresse.
Lander was busy all night, especially in the second period, coming up with timely saves to give his team a chance to draw even, as the Eagles outshot the Crusaders 45-18.
The Eagles best chance of the period came on a 5-on-3 penalty kill which saw Lander stop Messalonskee forwards once on a 2-on-1 odd-man break followed shortly after on Jacob Dexter’s wraparound attempt.
Messalonskee would blow the game wide open by scoring two goals in the opening three minutes of the third period resulting in an insurmountable 4-1 Eagles lead.
Jared Cunningham deked around a John Bapst defender at the blue line before unleashing a wrist shot that beat Lander over the glove for the hat trick and the 3-1 lead.
“You know our team played hard tonight, we knew it was going to be a tough game but we did all the little things right,” Cunningham said.
Jacob Dexter tallied his first goal of the night 16 seconds later, after a nice drop back pass by teammate Chase Cunningham. Dexter was set up in a perfect shooting position to beat Lander over the glove.
Weeks stopped all the shots he saw in the third period as he and his Eagles teammates shut the door the rest of the way to secure their spot in the regional final. Weeks finished with 15 saves.
John Bapst (10-10) didn’t give up though, exchanging goals in the final minutes of the third period, scoring two more goals compared to another two for Messalonskee to make the final score 7-3.
“Tonight we gave them eight power plays to them and the 5-on-3 came late in the period, it came at a key time in one goal game,” Latendresse said. “We did a good job but we just can’t give eight power plays to the opponent and hope to be in the game.”